King of the classics

MIKE BELL

, Last Updated: 10:32 PM ET

CALGARY -- Like Zamfir (master of the pan flute), Frank Mills (master of contemporary piano) and James Galway (master of the regular flute), Belgian vocalist Helmut Lotti (master of classical pop vocals) is part of a strange phenomenon of immensely popular recording artists who you'd have a difficult time picking out of a lineup.

Thanks to niche marketing, the young artist quietly and inexplicably has album sales numbering in the millions, thanks to countries such as Canada, Norway, the Netherlands, Germany and South Africa.

He's performed onstage with artists such as Placido Domingo, Sarah Brightman and Gloria Gaynor, he was invited to sing at the Friends of Michael Jackson show last year in Munich, and his solo shows sell out the world over.

So why then, is Lotti the perfect candidate for American Express commercials?

"I get recognized walking down the streets in Belgium," says Lotti, who performs at the Jubilee tonight.

That's no surprise, considering his 1995 album, Helmut Lotti Goes Classic, is the biggest and fastest selling CD of all time in his homeland. Born Helmut Lotigiers, the 31-year-old international superstar began his climb at the age of five after hearing the music of Elvis, whom he later impersonated.

But it wasn't rock 'n' roll where Lotti found his calling, it was in the world of crossover classical pop with his four Helmut Goes Classic CDs (including a Christmas one) featuring interpretations of songs such as Amazing Grace, Ave Maria and Santa Lucia where he would build his empire.

"It is mainly because of my voice," he says of the direction his music took. "It is more of a classical voice and it works better with the songs that I perform than rock 'n' roll."

His latest album released in Canada is Out Of Africa (though back home he has just released the CD Latino Classics), which features tracks ranging from Helmut originals to The Lion Sleeps Tonight and a Johnny Clegg song.

The project is a nod to the country which he almost considers a second home. In his musical travels, as well as through his ambassador work for UNICEF, South Africa has become a place that's close to his heart and one worthy of a vocal tribute.

"I've been successful in Europe now for four years, but the first country where I became famous -- after Belgium and Holland -- was South Africa," he says.

"It is a beautiful country and the people are wonderful."


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